Pulling back from the ‘royal we’ voice for just a moment to properly set up our final Ask Me Anything of 2022. Since we began the AMA series, I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with several women and men who keep Kloeckner movin’ and shakin’. I’ve somehow successfully talked people from all different levels of the business into discussing their lives, on and off the clock. So, as I end my first year working in steel, it’s only fitting to finish season 1 of our AMA series with an interview featuring Jon Crum. Not just because he’s a seasoned, second-generation steelman who knows all the ins and outs but because he’s one of several very patient people who took the time to answer my random questions when I started at Kloeckner.
I could go on about how awesome Jon is, but you can just read all about it. Here’s what Jon said when I asked him anything.
Lauren Wiggins: This one’s my favorite to start with – what was your very first job? What’s something you loved about it and hated about it? Did you learn anything from it that you still use today?
Grandpa’s Tools & Fast Food
Jon Crum: Growing up, my grandpa had a remodeling side business, so when I was 12 or 13 years old, I started spending my summers working with him. I was just his tool go-fer, but I enjoyed it because it gave us something to do together.
My first real job was at Hardee’s when I was in high school, making $5.15 an hour. I wasn’t all about working in fast food, but it made me feel responsible. I had a scheduled job and was paying taxes!
I hated it, but I have a different appreciation for it, I guess. People are always yelling at you, sometimes they come in and yell over the counter. Awful. I do still get frustrated when I’m sitting in a drive-through for 20 minutes for *fast* food.
Anyway, as soon as I graduated, I enlisted in the military but was on a delayed entry while I rehabbed a sports injury.
Growing Up with Metal
LW: Yeah, a job like that will either make you hate or love humanity.
Okay, so you were in the Army, and you were a firefighter. How did you end up in the metals industry? What brought you to Kloeckner?
JC: My dad, who also works in steel, told me I needed to grow up and get a real job. He brought me on at Jeffrey Steel in ‘97 as a helper on the beam saw. Dad was on the sales side, but I had been around steel enough to be fascinated with it, so I loved that job.
I was there through its transition to Metals USA in ‘98 when I left for the military. Did my time, separated in ‘01, and my dad had become GM at the Oakwood, GA facility. I spent four years working for him as a burn table operator in the warehouse. I didn’t get into sales until ’05, but my warehouse experience gave me an edge in selling because I knew how the metal was processed. It just makes for an easier conversation with customers when you have that knowledge.
I eventually did inside sales for Ryerson, and then, Kloeckner found me during their search for outside sales reps. The timing was just right.
LW: Gotcha, it sounds like you caught the steel bug early in life.
Let’s switch gears. I know your branch in Suwanee is a heavy value-add branch for us – have you gotten any questions about sustainable metal from your clients yet? What do you think about the emerging sustainability demands on the industry? When do you think we’ll actually see the changes we’re starting to make today?
JC: Well, on our side of the industry, in Long Products, we don’t get as much demand. At least not yet. Flat Roll Group hears more about it when you get into automotive and appliances. I think it’s a great initiative, and I’m sure I’ll start hearing more chatter in the short term.
Master of Cornhole & Mentoring
LW: Okay, I hadn’t considered that different metals will experience the push at different times. I imagine it depends on the region as well.
Now for something completely different: do you have a hidden talent? If not, what’s your greatest passion/hobby when you’re off the clock?
JC: I stay pretty busy, but I do enjoy fishing with my youngest. My best friend and I have also recently gotten into cornhole tournaments. His cousin is really good and played on ESPN in a tournament, and he was like, “yeah, we could do that.”
You know, it satisfies that competitive drive in you, and it’s just a good time hanging out with everyone who comes out every week. You know, it’s a whole other family that you hang out with. It’s fun.
LW: Nice! Don’t forget about all the little people when you make it big in cornhole.
Here’s a good one, especially with the Great Retirement being such a hot topic for this industry. Do you mentor anyone at work? What’s the most important message you try to drill into the next generation of steel?
JC: Yeah, I try to mentor anyone that will listen. You know, I’ve been in this business for some years now. I’ve worked with people that were really close to the cuff on their expertise and new market knowledge and everything like that. I try to share everything I can.
In the sales office, I’ve got some new talent and some experienced talent as well. I try to push the message of not taking it personally; it’s only business. If you don’t have the answers, tell them straight up, but you should have the answers. If you have bad news, make the phone call.
When I talk to folks in the warehouse who say they want to do sales, I simply tell them they can. I’m proof. It’s not a no until it’s a no.
Looking Toward the Future
LW: Wise words from a seller of steel! Let’s talk about the future. What does 2023 look like for Jon? Personally and professionally?
JC: Next year is a big one for us. The baby graduates high school and gets ready to go off to college. Mama and I will be empty nesters. Professionally, my responsibility is to make sure we’re on a growth pattern. That’s it, that’s my main focus.
LW: Yeah, glad you’re on that and all the Excel spreadsheets that come with it.
Dear Ol’ Dad: My Greatest Competitor
Here’s one that stumps people. Tell us about your hero, a leader, or a public figure you admire – is there a principle they stand for that you’ve adopted as your own, or something in their work that inspires yours at Kloeckner?
JC: I thought about this one for a minute, and it’s always going to be my dad. You know, he always had this strong work ethic that I have a lot of appreciation for, now that I’ve stayed in this industry. He’s a hustler. I grew up hearing people talk about him as a fixer. He’d step in at a struggling branch and turn it around. Red to black, real quick. I’ve always admired that about him, and that’s why I do what I do. I’ve always looked at my career path knowing when he was promoted to certain positions, and I’m like, I gotta get there next. We’ve even been competitors. Different companies, mostly different regions, but sometimes there was just enough overlap that I prided myself on stealing a little piece of whatever business he was after.
LW: Oh, so you are competitive, huh?
The Good Life
Okay, here’s the family question. What are your responsibilities at home? Is there a fun activity/tradition you enjoy together?
JC: My wife is a realtor and basically our House Manager. I’m basically a workaholic. I’m here Monday through Friday and part-time with City of Jefferson Fire Department. My responsibilities are really anything outside of the house. Yardwork, car stuff, getting Avery where he’s supposed to be.
LW: That basically makes you a superhero.
JC: We love to be on the water, and we got our fishing boat that Avery and I are on 40 hours a month for fishing tournaments. We’ve got our little ski boat too. So we spend as much time as possible on Lake Lanier or Hartwell just hanging out with friends. We all wake surf and ski.
LW: You’re speaking my language. Water is my happy place too!
Alright, we’ve reached the final question – if you could turn back the hands of time and do one thing differently at any point in your life, what would it be, and why would you change it?
JC: See, it’s tricky. I don’t know what I’d change. I feel like I’ve gotten where I am by learning from my mistakes. You know, also pursuing the opportunities that were in front of me, right? I love my career, I have a great wife and kids. Why would I change anything?
That’s how we end our AMA interviews this year. Asking this kind of question is actually the perfect way to end a year, and one can only hope to find that it’s rhetorical. As always, we appreciate Jon’s excellence in work and in being a human. Thanks for taking the time to tell us everything!
If you’re reading these, stay tuned for fresh questions and possibly a new format in 2023. Oh, and thanks for reading!